Duty-free Shopping Issues Involving
Liquids, Gels, and Aerosols

If you are traveling internationally, and you wish to make a duty-free purchase of liquor, perfume, cosmetics, or any other item that may contain liquids, gels, or aerosols, you should take extra precautions to ensure that your items will not be confiscated by security in the US or elsewhere. These suggestions apply only to those items in containers that are larger than 100ml (3.4 fluid ounces) because only larger containers are subject to many of the common restrictions on liquids and gels. Categories of duty-free items that fall under these restrictions include the following:

  • Liquor
  • Wine
  • Perfume and body sprays
  • Facial cleansers and creams
  • Body or hand lotions
  • Liquid make-up

Member countries of the European Union; as well as Iceland, Norway, Japan, Singapore, Australia, and others; have restrictions on liquid and gel products that are similar to the US restrictions regarding liquids and gels in carry-on bags. As a result, there are potential implications for passengers who purchase liquid duty-free items (e.g. perfume and liquor) while traveling to and from international destinations.

Because many duty-free shops in other countries are located before the security checkpoint, all liquid duty-free items purchased in those airports will be placed in special sealed tamper-evident bags in order to be permitted through those countries' security checkpoints. Note that the tamper-evident bag is not currently accepted through US checkpoints, but there are other options listed described below that may help you.

To avoid getting your liquid duty-free items taken by airport security, please follow the guidelines below.

Traveling from the United States

Duty-free purchases of liquids of any size from shops in the US are permitted if you have a nonstop flight to an international destination.

If you have a connecting flight in Europe, Japan or another international destination, US duty-free liquid purchases in containers larger than three ounces will not be permitted through security checkpoints because they will not be in the an ICAO approved tamper-evident bag. However, many duty-free stores in US airports offer the approved tamper-resistant. If this is the case, make sure that the duty-free shop places your items it in the bag in the store.

While using tamper-evident bags may work for you in most situations, perhaps the best way to make sure to avoid any problems at the checkpoint is to wait until you reach your destination to purchase your duty-free items containing liquids, gels, or aerosols. Keep in mind that this option may not exist for every airport, so check ahead of time.

When traveling to an international destination with a connection, it is best to buy your duty-free items on the last leg of your trip when you do not need to pass through any more security checkpoints.

Note on Japan: Japan does not use or accept the ICAO tamper-evident duty-free bag, so travelers changing planes in Japan for other international destinations should wait to purchase any liquid, aerosol or gel duty-free items in excess of 3.4 ounces (100ml) after arriving in Japan. Passengers who have liquid duty-free items in containers larger than 3.4 ounces will not be allowed to take them through the checkpoint during the security re-check process in Japan.

Returning to the United States from Overseas

On nonstop flights bound for the US, passengers carrying duty-free liquids purchased at an international airport will not have any problems.

On nonstop flights bound for the US, duty-free liquids purchased in an international airport will be permitted through the checkpoint only if they meet US requirements for the use of tamper-evident bags. Duty-free delivered to the aircraft for passenger pick-up, bought on the plane or purchased after the security checkpoint are allowed.

If you are flying to the US and have a connecting domestic flight, you will be required to reclaim your checked bags prior to passing through customs inspection, so use this opportunity to place your duty-free liquids, aerosols, and gels in your checked bags before rechecking them for your connecting flight.

Other Duty Free Advice

When traveling to an international destination with a connection, buy your duty-free liquid items on the last leg of your trip.

In Europe and other countries that use the tamper-evident bag, passengers should not open the bag before the security checkpoint, or else the duty-free contents may be seized.

When returning from an international destination on a connecting flight in the US, use your time in customs to place any duty-free liquid items in your checked bags.

TSA advice on duty-free items

If you are arriving in the US and have to connect with another flight, you have to pass through TSA security before you board your next flight. This means that any larger duty free liquid, gel, cream, or aerosol item (more than 3.4 ounces or 100 ml) that you have in your carry-on bag may have to be discarded unless you have taken the proper precautions.

TSA advises that you can carry these items onto your next flight if under the following conditions:

  • The items are are in transparent containers.
  • They were purchased in a duty-free shop.
  • The store packed them in a secure, tamper-evident bag.

If this is not the case, you should plan on placing your duty-free item in a checked bag before departure, or during your initial arrival in the US when your baggage is being processed by the customs authorities (who are separate from TSA).

In Europe and other countries that use the tamper-evident bag, passengers should not open the bag before the security checkpoint, or else the duty-free contents may be seized.


Additional resources

Subscribe to the AirSafe.com newsletter, and download a free copy of the AirSafe.com Baggage and Security Guide which has additional details on what is prohibited and what is allowed in airports and airplanes, as well as insights on airport.

For a more complete list of banned and restricted items, download this TSA brochure. or this FAA brochure.

Duty-free Shopping Issues Involving Liquids, Gels, and Aerosols
http://www.airsafe.com/issues/security/dutyfree.htm -- Revised 22 September 2014